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J Biol Chem. 2004 Sep 17;279(38):39414-20. Epub 2004 Jul 15.

Inhibitors of the quinone-binding site allow rapid superoxide production from mitochondrial NADH:ubiquinone oxidoreductase (complex I).

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Medical Research Council Dunn Human Nutrition Unit, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2XY, United Kingdom.


Neither the route of electron transport nor the sites or mechanism of superoxide production in mitochondrial complex I has been established. We examined the rates of superoxide generation (measured as hydrogen peroxide production) by rat skeletal muscle mitochondria under a variety of conditions. The rate of superoxide production by complex I during NADH-linked forward electron transport was less than 10% of that during succinate-linked reverse electron transport even when complex I was fully reduced by pyruvate plus malate in the presence of the complex III inhibitor, stigmatellin. This asymmetry was not explained by differences in protonmotive force or its components. However, when inhibitors of the quinone-binding site of complex I were added in the presence of ATP to generate a pH gradient, there was a rapid rate of superoxide production by forward electron transport that was as great as the rate seen with reverse electron transport at the same pH gradient. These observations suggest that quinone-binding site inhibitors can make complex I adopt the highly radical-producing state that occurs during reverse electron transport. Despite complete inhibition of NADH: ubiquinone oxidoreductase activity in each case, different classes of quinone-binding site inhibitor (rotenone, piericidin, and high concentrations of myxothiazol) gave different rates of superoxide production during forward electron transport (the rate with myxothiazol was twice that with rotenone) suggesting that the site of rapid superoxide generation by complex I is in the region of the ubisemiquinone-binding sites and not upstream at the flavin or low potential FeS centers.

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